$1 Trans-Mississippi Western Cattle in Storm bicolored essay
On June 17, 1898, in conjunction with the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, the Post Office Department issued a set of nine stamps, all with western themes. The exposition, held in Omaha, commemorated the rapid development of the nation's western regions. The stamps ranged in value from one cent to two dollars.
Scottish artist John A. MacWhirter's painting titled "The Vanguard" inspired the image for the 1-dollar stamp. The image shows a herd of cattle presumably heading for shelter in blizzard conditions, and the stamp bears the inscription "Western Cattle in Storm." Collectors have repeatedly voted the stamp, printed in black, as the most beautiful in the history of United States stamp production.
Designers originally intended that the Trans-Mississippi stamps be printed in two colors—black vignettes with variously colored frames. US entry into the Spanish-American War on April 25, 1898, changed their plan. When Congress imposed numerous new taxes to fund the war, a huge demand for revenue stamps ensued. Consequently, to relieve pressure on the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), monochrome printing replaced the complex two-color process for the Trans-Mississippi stamps.
The BEP had already printed a number of essays, or trial designs, in anticipation of the two color printing. The essay of the 1-dollar stamp, shown here, appears at first glance to be a proof printing of the stamp as issued. Upon careful examination, however, one can see small differences in the design and that the frame and vignette differ slightly in color. The essay is printed on India paper and die sunk on a card measuring 205x150 mm, a standard format for large die proofs.